We Need to Talk About Infertility

A couple of years ago, at possibly one of the lowest points in our infertility struggle, a friend told me that I was the strongest person they knew. It gave me pause for thought and made me truly consider how other people viewed me. What followed was a good deal of sensible talking from people blessed with greater clarity in their thinking at that time than me and they gently brought me round to the conclusion that I was doing myself no favours by keeping our infertility struggles such a closely guarded secret.

That part may astound you, if you were a reader of my blog back then, or you’ve delved in to the archives now. For a considerable period of time I gave a blow-by-blow, technicolour account of our story, dildo-cam dates and all, right here on the internet.

In my real life, however, I wasn’t being quite so open.

It turns out that it is much easier to type words on a screen and send them off to in to the ether to be seen by relative strangers than to look someone in the eye and say “we desperately want another child and can’t have one.” Of course my closest friends knew the score, but my life is filled with countless other people who couldn’t have helped but notice “something” was different, yet not had any idea of the truth.

I suppose I was worried, as always, about what people might think of me, or what they would say and do if party to those private details about me. I struggled with the acceptance of being imperfect, of needing help and support.

The problem, of course, is that we live in a society that so often prizes strength and coping. The ability to keep a smile on your face at all times and leave your problems behind you wherever you go without allowing them to cross over in to any other area of your life. However, it is easy to become too fixated on that. Too desperate to appear to be coping that you either forget – or, as in my case, more actively refuse – to let anyone know that you have anything to cope with. But strength is relative. Ironically I was hiding my struggles out of fear of judgement, yet what people were seeing was someone who seemed very “un-together” and more than a million miles away from “strong” as I randomly fell apart. In short, a mess. Because without the whole picture, that is exactly how I looked.

With even a small part of the picture (the desperate struggle to conceive, which was just a part of what was going on at the time) things instantly begin to look very different. And when I did open up, it was immediately obvious how it changed people’s perceptions. I wonder still how more honesty on my part might have influenced the support available to me and hence the entire experience from an earlier point.

There were plenty of truly horrible individual moments in the process of IVF. Sneaking around making surreptitious phone calls to the fertility clinic in working hours, terrified that someone may overhear. Shutting myself in my surgery at work to receive the phone call that left me in floods of tears as I learned that none of my eggs appeared to have fertilised, whilst the names of waiting patients came up in the appointment book. Beginning to miscarry the pregnancy that I already knew had failed down the toilet at work whilst patients shuffled in to the waiting room to await their turn to see me. Being asked at least twenty times a day by patients how I am and affixing a smile to respond that “I’m fine” when really I was anything but. Waiting those two long, hard, harsh weeks hardly daring to hope that the tiny bundle of cells you saw under the microscope is turning in to new life inside you. Then peeing on a plastic stick and facing the reality as stark as the blank white space that stares back at you, before leaving the house for “business as usual”, passing pregnant bellies and prams full of newborns and their piercing cries.

All of those individual moments, however – even the actual moment of physical miscarriage, – pale in comparison to the enormity of the whole thing together. The inability to do what high school sex education would have you believe happens at the drop of a hat as soon as a boy and a girl slide between the sheets together.

That and the fact that because we already have a child we were supposed to somehow be okay with this. Let me tell you now, wanting another child has never in any way meant that I don’t love and appreciate the child I have. He’s one in a million and absolutely irreplaceable. He’s my moon and stars, my reason for everything. I love him more than I’ve so far found the words to truly express. In fact, the love that I feel for him is one of the many reasons that I’d so love to have experienced motherhood again from the beginning. It’s not wrong to want another child in exactly the same way that it’s not wrong to not want children at all, or to want just one. We all have our own personal dreams, and more than one child was amongst mine. To be unable to achieve that dream is still devastating despite my beautiful boy.

(If you still doubt me on that, take a look at your own wider family and those of your friends. Having more than one child is not some sort of exceptional circumstance. Its a basic and common maternal desire that I shouldn’t find myself repeatedly apologising for.)

One of the many hard things about infertility after having a child is just how inescapable it is. People make assumptions that because you have one child you must be able to have another. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked when we’ll be having another – a drawback of working closely with the public is that they think it’s ok to keep asking me such personal questions when, really, it’s never ok.

I could not, and still can’t, take Thomas to swimming lessons, soft play or even school drop off without being faced by round beach- ball bellies and double buggies containing two smiling siblings. The friends that shared my first pregnancy long ago moved on to second and third children and it’s difficult not to feel somehow left behind. Everyone else moves forward whilst my own life stands still. It’s hard not to feel a bit jealous of those who didn’t even have a child when we started trying for a second child, but now have two, three or more. It’s hard sometimes not to think that it should be my turn by now.

Sharing just what exactly was happening behind the closed doors and the tear stained face was definitely a turning point though. When work colleagues knew what I’d been hiding, my behaviour obviously made sense. It wasn’t so much that I was forgiven, as that they were reassured I hadn’t changed fundamentally as a person. People suddenly saw someone who was actually coping reasonably well with difficult circumstances rather than the slightly flaky person who’d been standing before them a moment before. The “strength” word came up again because people could see the heavy load I was carrying, rather than seeing someone who was beginning to buckle underneath seemingly nothing at all.

And some of the conversations around me changed, because topics that were off limits were easier to see. It turns out that you cannot always expect people to be sensitive in their questioning if they don’t have any idea. Although, for reference, it’s not really anyone’s business when or whether other people plan to have children and it’s never really appropriate to ask. Just because someone has one child, don’t assume that automatically means they can have another. If you know a woman has miscarried don’t tell her “its for the best” or even “you can try again”. Sometimes trying again will cost thousands of pounds, or simply not be possible at all, never mind the emotional toll it will take.

Actually, that is the other reason I was glad that I started to open up.It gave me an opportunity to educate a few people on these home truths about the suitability of their questions. The fact that this is necessary to do though simply underlines how much of a taboo infertility still is. It turns out that I was far from alone in hiding what we were going through behind closed doors.

In recent years we’ve seen a lot of progress in the conversations about miscarriage, about subjects like birth trauma and about mental health. Yet infertility doesn’t yet seem to be a fair game topic. So many women hide what they are experiencing and so often they only reveal it when they have a positive outcome. Their happy news is shared with the story of what a struggle it was to get there.

The problem with that is it not only allows the struggle to be immediately glossed over by the fantastic ending, it also sometimes gives a false impression of the success rate of infertility treatment. If people only ever hear the good outcomes, it’s natural to assume that that is all there is. But sadly that is not the truth. Whilst success rates have improved, and we have much to thank modern medical science for, there are still plenty of us who don’t ever get that happy outcome. Sometimes miracles don’t “just take a little time” – they may never arrive. And sometimes it really is the end, even when it is not okay. Dreams, it seems, don’t always come true and believing you can is not always enough.

I’m glad I ended my personal infertility silence, but I wish I could do something to support others – who want to – to do the same. Of course fertility and trying to conceive is a very personal thing, and not everyone wants to open up. But we need to create the right environment for those who do. It’s time to open up about infertility and all the myriad ways it affects us. It’s time to normalise it, to raise the profile and end the inappropriate questions of young women (and men) about their family plans. It’s time to let others know they are not alone, no matter what the outcome. It’s time to be there for people facing infertility, so they don’t feel they must carry the burden in silence.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Baby Lust No More?

Shortly after our third IVF attempt and failure, I wrote this, about how hard it was to surrender hope when I still wanted another baby so badly. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever not wanting it so fiercely that it hurt from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep.

It turns out that perhaps there is truth in the old adage that time heals. A bit, at least.

I’ve come to realise in the last few weeks that maybe, just maybe, that fierce devotion to the dream of another child has shifted. It’s in no small part due to all the other crap that has taken my focus away in the last 12 months. But I think that is just the thing that has masked this change in perspective as it happened, and allowed it to creep up on me.

It’s more that I’ve come to accept that I cannot ever have my dream. That ship has sailed. Even if I did miraculously conceive another child, I can never have the “three under five” sort of family dynamic that I once longed for.

And more than that, it would alter our lives so much to go back to having a newborn now. Contemplating that sort of change in our lives is very different to the longing to have been able to have had another baby almost four years ago when we started trying.

The thing is, we’re reaching a stage where our lives are really moving on, for want of a better descriptor. Thomas starts school in September, and though it may win me a bad mother award, I’m quite excited by the prospect of having 9 to 3 free, two days per week. Sure, I’ll miss that time with Thomas, but his school is awesome and I know he’ll be enjoying it. Having some time to get my hair cut during the day, go for a swim, do household tasks without the hindrance of a small child’s “help”, sort out seemingly endless rounds of doctors appointments so I don’t have to drag Thomas to them… The list of things I’m looking forward to goes on. These are things I’ve never had much opportunity for before, as prior to having Thomas, like so many women, I was working full time, 5 or 6 day weeks. You can forgive me for looking forward to it, no? Having a younger child, of course, would delay this point by a while longer. Had I had my last baby last year as I hoped, I’d have three or four more years to wait. If I fell pregnant now, it would be at least another five.

And we’re starting to reclaim more of our own interests too. This weekend we – all three of us – rode our bikes together across the parks and along local cycle lanes to a pub with a garden. We sat in the sunshine and Ian and I had a cheeky pint and some good conversation that didn’t revolve around parenting. Thomas was quite happy drinking apple juice through a straw, searching for the biggest sticks he could find and making friends with the dogs lying in the sun. It was exactly the kind of thing we’d have been doing on a sunny Saturday afternoon if we didn’t have kids. Again, it may win me a bad mother award, but doing things which we want to do as well as things which are more centred around our child is, to my mind, essential for balance. Far from being selfish, I think all parents need to have the opportunity to fulfill some of their own desires and interests as part of rounded family life. But that is only possible as kids get that bit older, and more able to understand the importance of anyone but themselves and make their own enjoyment out of varied situations.

Thomas is now happy to do so many things that we would do without a child to consider, and stuff that is harder with a swarm of kids. Sure, we can’t take him to 18 rated films at the cinema, or to some of the more adult theatre we enjoy, nor is he an equal with whom we can discuss everything. But we’re really beginning to enjoy being a family without it all having to be kid-centric – lovely and fun as those sorts of activities are, and grateful as I am to have the opportunity to do them because I have child with who to do them.

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Last month, I was sure that I’d ovulated. It doesn’t happen very often, but so many years of focusing on your fertility help you to tune in to the signs. And then, no period arrived. Not strange in itself – they often fail to show. But the fact that I was sure I’d ovulated made me just wonder if it were possible. It was a fleeting thought, that I tried to quickly suppress. But with it came a host of confusing emotions. I suddenly questioned exactly how I’d feel if I were, indeed pregnant.

Ecstatic, of course I would. Years of longing for a second pink line that never appeared means it would an irrepressible instinct.

But.

But.

I’m not sure that now is the right time. I think all the times that could have been the right time have passed.

I wasn’t pregnant. Obviously.

But the experience has allowed me to realise that I may just be ready to let go of the thought that it will ever happen. I think I’m at peace with that now. It will always hurt, but I know that it would still hurt just as much that we weren’t able to have a baby back when we were first trying, even if we had another baby now. Managing to separate out the unrealised dream from the bare fact of infertility is a massive leap.

It comes down to this: We wanted a baby. We couldn’t have one. I’ll never really – truly – get over that.

But I’m ready to say that I don’t really want another baby now, anymore.

This is my family.

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 (Okay, okay… minus the mice!)

Three Long Years

It’s been three years now since we started trying to conceive a second child. Almost two years since our devastating secondary infertility diagnosis. And almost a year since our final attempt at IVF spectacularly failed.

Time is passing and my longing for another pregnancy, and more importantly another child to love and nurture does not diminish. It still sits heavy as a stone in the deepest part of my heart. Maternal instinct is a base desire, not a longing that I can control, and so I know it will remain, even if the intensity wanes.

I never imagined that I’d be someone who counted off so many years of trying, and failing, to conceive. Well, who does?

To clarify, I’d imagined infertility, I just did not imagine how it might weigh me down. Before we began trying for our first child, I expected to run into some difficulties. My complex health history made me believe it wasn’t going to straightforward. But back then I was naive. I thought if it didn’t work out then I would find a way to be okay with that, because I was prepared for the possibility. I certainly didn’t think I’d cry over every period for all eternity, or count off the months of failure one by one, always knowing exactly how many had passed.

And I don’t know, perhaps I would have been some approximation of alright if fate had destined us to be childless. To think about not having Thomas now hurts with an intensity I cannot put in to words. But if I’d never known him, and the joy he brings I could not miss him with that same passion. It would obviously have been different had we been able to have no children, rather than only one. I would be a different person and it’s impossible to know how I would have coped. I had so many consolation plans. Plans for an entirely different life. I knew we’d have extra money, I’d have more opportunities to invest in my career. I’d planned the places we’d go and the experiences we could enjoy. I guess in trying to have a child I was making a choice between having a family or completing other exciting life goals; the things that study, poor health and other circumstances had contrived to deny me in my twenties. I wanted a family, but the alternative was palatable enough – exciting enough, even – that it might just have been alright.

And it’s not as simple as saying that my current reality is not “alright”. I wouldn’t trade having my amazing boy in my world for anything at all. Nothing. I wouldn’t even change him for two children if neither of those were him. But having only one child whilst wanting more leaves you in a limboland where the absence is particularly acute. We’re still parents. But we’re also still incomplete. And if happiness is related to the difference between your expectations and reality, then I’ve fallen through the crack between both of my anticipated realities in to the one situation I did not foresee and so it’s unsurprising that it’s come with a weight of sadness. And whilst I know for sure that career achievements, exciting world travel or even learning to fly a plane are no replacement for, or in any way comparable to, having a family of your own, they must surely provide a better means of distraction from what you do not have. Instead I am confronted day in and day out at the school gates and swimming lessons, or the local soft play centre and playground, by other parents with their broods of siblings, or the buggy pushing mothers with their round beach ball bellies as proud evidence of the next addition to come. I cannot run, never mind hide.

In the last three years that we’ve been trying in vain to grow our family, I’ve seen people go from not yet being pregnant with a first child to having two children. It’s hard to shake that feeling of being stuck in the slow lane whilst everyone else accelerates past, reaching the destination that I long for, but can never attain.

I suppose what I’m saying is that it’s still hard. Even after all this time. And despite having Thomas – I’ve said it before but it always bears repeating that my sadness does not reflect a lack of gratitude for what I do have. I’m still allowed to mourn what I do not.

I think it always will be hard. But I recognise that it’s a bit like other forms of grief. It began as an endless ocean with soaring waves that I could neither avoid nor see past. Gradually the waves diminished a little, but they’d still strike me unbidden with no warning of their approach, often overwhelming me in the process. More recently the calm periods have felt a little longer. I can often predict the waves before they hit, even if I can’t avoid them entirely. I’m a little better at riding the storms. I go under less frequently. I know the ups and downs, the waves and the storms, will continue. But I also hope they’ll continue to lessen in their frequency and impact.

Three years is a long time to try for a baby. A long time to spend counting days and hoping. No one expects it to take so long. No one wants to believe that they will be the ones for whom there is no resolution, no miracle. No happy ending. So no one plans for how to stop counting. We’re not actually trying any more. We can’t pursue any further fertility treatment and even adoption is, currently, a blocked road. For obvious reasons we don’t use contraception, but we’re not “trying”.

Still that little flicker of disbelief that this is where I find myself burns on. Unconsciously I suppose I still hope for a miracle. I still cry each and every time my period arrives. That is increasingly infrequently these days, which at least reduces how many times I face the hurt of that particular reminder of what is not to be, but in itself reminds me of the ever worsening state of the situation. The dwindling chance of a biological possibility of a miracle. Sometimes I wonder if using contraception would help cement the absolute reality of the fact that we will not conceive. If I was actively trying to prevent a pregnancy, would I be better able to move forwards without counting how many months have passed?

No. Probably not.

There is no conclusion to this really. I’m in no doubt that those waves of sadness will keep coming and when I focus on it, infertility will always hurt. But for the majority of the time the joy in the family I have surpasses the disappointment of the unfulfilled dream. That’s a positive, three years down this endless winding road that began on that fateful September day three years ago where we committed to “trying again” without a thought at all to the possibility of failure.

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“I’d Love Another, But We Can’t Have Any More”

It’s turned out to be a bit of a conversation stopper, that.

Yet, somehow, despite the fact that it seems to drag infertility front and centre, I’ve found myself saying it more and more recently. Because, of course, it’s not uttering that statement that brings our infertility to the fore, it’s the never ending barrage of questions about whether, or when, we’re going to have another child, or even why we haven’t got on and done it already.

And every time someone asks that question, it reminds me of what I long for, but cannot have, and it breaks my heart just a little bit more.

Those questions won’t stop any time soon though. I know that now. For as long as I’m doing nursery runs, and preschool birthday parties with other mums of about my age, for as long as I’m of an age where I should, at least in theory, be well pre-menopausal, and for as long as I work with the well-meaning public who like to make “small talk”, people are going to keep asking me about our plans for more children.

I’ve had to find a way to deal with that which doesn’t involve suspiciously frequent trips to the loo and a good supply of waterproof mascara.

And honesty, as they say, is the best policy. It turns out that being honest about it is nothing like as hard as either going through the infertility experience, or putting up a pretence of all being well every time the subject is raised.

In fact, funnily enough, it’s actually helped. Just by bringing infertility out in to the open I feel better. Acknowledging it rather than hiding it means it’s no longer a dirty little secret that no one can possibly comprehend because they simply don’t know. And it allows me to raise it, and then move on, rather than all those questions leaving a simmering hurt and upset that eventually boils over.

It’s not my intention to make people feel uncomfortable or awkward, even though I recognise my words often do that. I see the look of panic flash across their eyes as what I’ve said sinks in and they flail to find something appropriate to say in return. (For the record “I’m sorry” or “That must be really tough” would be fine. Asking if we’ve tried IVF or considered adoption is like asking a dental hygienist if they know how to floss. And it’s a bit rude, not to mention inconsiderate. So yeah… Just. Stop.) But if I can make people think, then that has to be a good thing. If people can start to realise that these seemingly innocent questions can crush like a ton of bricks then that is great. If they can see that not everyone has the privilege of “choosing” the size of their family and that having an “only child” isn’t necessarily something that we wanted, nevermind it being selfish or lazy or all the other things people assume, then it will make me feel better. If I can make people realise that having one child is no guarantee of more to follow, then it’s worth a few seconds of squirming. In fact, if I can open people’s eyes to the fact that a family with only one child is a perfectly valid family, whether it was by choice or not, then we’d really be moving forwards.

But most of all, I’d like to hope that it will make people stop and think in future. And next time they meet a woman of child-bearing age, whether she already has children or not, they don’t pry in to her personal circumstances. Because really, the question of how many children you want, or are planning, to have, is not dinner table conversation.

It”s deeply personal. It can be a tough subject for so many people for a huge variety of reasons. And if I have to lob a few infertility grenades into conversations to get people to see that…well, so be it.

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The Baby Who is Not Here

I’ve read enough about conception and miscarriage at this point to have come across, over and over again, the sentiment that a baby is real to its parents from the moment the second line appears on the test. Hell, I’ve experienced it myself. When you are desperate to have a child, all your hopes and dreams seem pinned on that stick and its result. When the outcome is positive, it adds colour and flesh and vibrancy to a hitherto merely imagined scenario, even though it may still be tinged with deep, deep caution. Even though you know that it still may not come to fruition.

When you go through IVF, however, the second line is not even necessary. From the moment that your cycle is planned in meticulous detail, you know roughly when any resulting baby will be due, and that is where it starts. Even when you’ve been disappointed again and again in the past. Even when you’ve had positive outcomes that went on to end in miscarriage. Even when you know that all the odds are stacked against you and your rational head wants to overrule your hopeful heart. Still, the idea that a baby could be joining your family all those months down the line is impossible to resist. And after all, you have to believe that it will work in order to keep putting yourself through it.

Arguably you could think that way about each and every cycle that you try naturally. After all, if you have no cause to believe otherwise, there is a chance each month that this will be the one where the stars align and eggs and sperm meet at the right time in the right place and do absolutely everything that they need to do to make a new life. You could, if you were so inclined, mourn every period not simply because it means that you did not make it this month, but because you flushed your potential child down the toilet.

That is going further than I think entirely rational, though. In the end we all know that the chances in any given month are slim. It’s likely that if you don’t get pregnant, no fertilisation even occurred.

And that is how IVF is really different. A full two weeks before anyone could pee on a stick, days before anything is even put in your uterus, you get the long awaited phone call from the embryologist to let you know how your eggs and sperm “got on”. And assuming you don’t face the heartbreak of a zero fertilisation cycle, in the moments of that phone call, the world tips on its axis. What you hear in the call is how many potential babies you’ve made.

It’s more than simply knowing that you had plenty of unprotected sex and could feasibly be pregnant. You can’t help but see these as bigger chances. This is a real, potential child with all of its genetic material right there is that dish. You know exactly when that child was conceived and therefore you also know exactly when it should be joining the world as a newborn baby.

If only everything else goes right, of course.

When it doesn’t work, that loss is far more similar to the loss of miscarriage than to a negative pregnancy test or period arriving after a “natural” attempt at baby making.

I know this, because I’ve experienced it all.

If our final IVF attempt last year had worked, my due date would have been tomorrow. And as a diabetic with a previous c-section behind me, I would no doubt have come under pressure to have an elective section at 38 weeks. Which means that baby would have been born almost two weeks ago, on our fifth wedding anniversary.

I’ve been waiting for this date since that fateful telephone call last October. Still etched across my heart, despite the fact that no baby has been growing in my belly.

I couldn’t erase it. Nor could I ignore it.

It is impossible for me not to mourn that child that might have been. Even though he or she was never anything more than a collection of our genetic material. It never implanted in to the lining of my uterus. Never grew arms and legs or facial features. It never even had a heartbeat.

But it was my baby.

My last chance at another child.

I’ll never be able to erase the sadness of its loss, either.

“I Want a Brother” and Other Things That Make Me Immeasurably Sad

I see a lot of blog posts about positivity. About happiness. About the simple things that bring joy.

This is not one of those posts.

It may not be “the done thing” to make a list of negatives, and there may not be a linky for “top sad moments of the week”, but this place is my honest outlet. The place to share and offload how I’m really feeling, downs and all.

And this week had a real downer.

Last Wednesday, amongst recurring tantrums that I wasn’t doing exactly what Thomas wanted (despite his lack of communication on what that was) as we played together, and outbursts of anger that he wasn’t capable – or at least thought he wasn’t capable – of doing certain things that he wanted came a mega strop at me. It was provoked by my momentary unavailability to be a train, or whatever the game of the moment was. I was trying to prep for dinner, hang a load of wet laundry and answer a couple of important – as in “must-be-done-before-5pm-type – emails simultaneously. All I’d asked of Thomas, after a day spent in London together, and then playing together for a couple of hours, was that he play on his own for a bit.

If there is one thing that my son is not great at, it’s playing on his own. He’s a people person and always wants a playmate.

So when I asked him again to give me five minutes he hurled a real cracker at me:

“I want a brother. Then I’ll always have someone to play with me.”

It’s fair to say, I finished up in bits. I know that’s he’s not capable of intentionally trying to wound with words and that he couldn’t possibly comprehend their power. But my goodness, it fucking hurt.

Leaving the obvious aside for a moment, it was a sock in the gut because it was the preschooler equivalent of “I hate you.” In that one small sentence, he was telling me that I wasn’t good enough because I don’t play with him enough. He wanted someone other than me, who would be a better playmate.

It doesn’t matter that the rational part of my brain knows that this isn’t true – I spend huge amounts of time immersed in his games, down on the floor, building train tracks, acting out the fat controller, playing snap or snakes and ladders. We play with Playdoh and paints. We cook together and stick stickers together. It’s a simple fact of life that, sadly, I also have other things that must be done and I cannot be one hundred percent available to Thomas one hundred percent of the time.

But that’s not how Thomas perceives it, and no matter how silly, it still hurts.

But of course, it’s worse than that. Because I would dearly have loved to give Thomas a sibling. If you read regularly, you cannot fail to know that.

I know that that too is not as simple as it sounds. Even if we had fallen pregnant the first month of trying, that child would be almost two and so only really now beginning to be capable of participating in Thomas’s games. And that is assuming that they even wanted to. Having another child could have raised a whole lot of different issues, with Thomas constantly screaming that they were ruining his games, or taking his toys. With me unable to leave them together for fear of them falling out or hurting one another. Having another child is no guarantee that they’ll be friends or playmates. I know that.

But once again, it’s Thomas’s perception that counts. He’s suddenly decided that a sibling would equal a permanent play mate, and for a child who always wants to be with others, that’s huge.

And of course, it’s the one thing that I can’t do.

I would give everything I own to make it happen. But I can’t. And this, the first time of Thomas openly articulating a request for a sibling, stung me to my very core.

Somehow this moment opened the floodgates and turned my sensitivity meter to high, because for the next twenty four hours, everything seemed to hurt. I’m getting pretty good at suppressing the sadness associated with our infertility, and avoiding the things that trigger it, Thomas’s comment was like picking at a scab, and then I just couldn’t leave it alone.

Amongst other things, I took myself on to Facebook. I don’t really use Facebook anymore, and there’s an obvious reason why not: It seems that EVERYONE has either just had a baby, or is pregnant. Scrolling through all the pictures in my newsfeed made me realise just how many people who hadn’t even had their first child when we started trying for a second now have their second child too. Which in turn made me realise that from the point that we started to try for Thomas, to the point that we started to try again having already had him was a shorter period of time that we’ve now been attempting to have another baby. I don’t know why that upset me specifically, but it did. Possibly because it made me realise just how much of my life this has taken up.

Then elsewhere online, there seemed to be a lot of baby talk and rather than turn a blind eye and move on to something else, I kept reading. I saw conversations unfolding where people talked almost carelessly of how and when they will have another child. They talked about how long they are leaving it to start trying because it needs to fit in with their plans, or they have a dream about how it will all fit together.

When I see stuff like this I feel like butting in and telling them to just get the hell on with it, because it turns out that you can’t truly plan these things. Fertility has no regard for your dreams. I want to cringe at their naivety that it can all be so easy just because they’ve done it once before.

But then, once I was that naive. I did it too.

And the honest truth is that, for the very vast majority of people, their plans and dreams will come to fruition.

Just for us, they didn’t.

How I wish for those carefree moments of assumption back.

How I wish it were all different.

How I wish I could give Thomas the sibling he asked for.

IVF, One Year On

A year ago today, I shared some really exciting news on this blog. I’d already known for a short while that our first roll of the IVF dice had worked, but today was the day I chose to share that news. Of course, it wasn’t meant to be, and I was soon un-sharing our happiness.

I look back at that day now and I can remember the pure joy of seeing that second pink line on a pregnancy test. The moment where all the disappointments of the previous 18 months faded to grey, unimportant against the technicolor headline of a positive pregnancy test. All of my hopes and dreams suddenly felt as though they were finally in reach, if I could just hold on. I can remember feeling it, but I can’t recapture the actual emotions. These days it feels as though there is a wall of glass separating me from such elation. I can see it, but I can’t imagine attaining it. All I can do when I think of those moments now is will myself not to cry, biting my lip as I push the image of the four-month old that might have been from my mind.

Last year feels, in some ways, like a dream. I almost believe that I could wake up at any moment and discover that it never happened at all. It’s only the pain in my heart that tells me otherwise.

I look back on it too, in amazement. I look at what we managed to get through. Not in simple terms of the pressures and logistics, emotions and stresses, of multiple IVF cycles, their failures and a miscarriage. I know there is much worse that happens to people. It’s more the fact that I got through it whilst also maintaining as close to a normal existence as possible. While I may have whinged about almost nothing but infertility for the last year on this blog, reality has been very different, and I suppose I want those of you who’ve seen nothing but brow-beating and woe-is-me in my words here recently to really understand that it isn’t the whole picture.

The bits you didn’t always see included me working hard in a demanding job, all too often faced with a rude and demanding public. Better yet, I furthered my career with additional study. We gave Thomas a happy year, with days out, three trips away and innumerable cuddles and kisses. I kept on top of life, keeping the house in order, clean clothes in the wardrobe and good food on the table. I kept on top of my chronic health conditions not just during treatment cycles, but every single day. Few people in “real life” knew anything about the frantic paddling that was going on under the surface. And all of those who have since found out about it in retrospect have commented that they didn’t have a clue. Because almost without exception, I managed to hold it together.

And sometimes I just want to scream “Do you know what, that was really, really tough.” It’s an achievement that I feel right to be proud of. Because infertility, and the associated treatment, is hard, even if it isn’t the worst life can throw at you.

Sure, there were moments I’m not proud of. The moments that Thomas saw me cry, especially when he thought it may be his fault. The times my temper was not entirely kept in check. The time I dissolved in to a heap on the floor when I found the “Your Pregnancy Day by Day” book – left over from my pregnancy with Thomas – under the bed, covered in dust, where we’d pushed it out of sight on the day I began to miscarry.

I didn’t always cope perfectly, and I still don’t. But one year on, with empty arms and baby-shaped hole in my heart, I’m getting on with life. I smile, laugh and joke on a daily basis. I brush aside questions of whether we’ll have more children without my composure cracking.

We came though a year of IVF with unresolved infertility and no where left to turn. We were never going to be unscathed by the experience. There are few days that pass where I don’t contemplate how different they’d be if I were on maternity leave instead of working. If I were struggling through long nights and short days with a breast fed baby. If Thomas had a sibling to dote on and dislike, all at the same time.

But I’m still moving forwards. It’s taken a lot of strength to do. And that is what I’d like people to know.